Great Basin National Park straddles the border between Nevada and Utah, offering a very fragile ecosystem that is teeming with life. You'll be in awe of this unique landscape featuring the 13,000-foot Wheeler Peak, meadows and low hills full of sage, and majestic caves.
The one-of-a-kind bristlecone pines, which may be the oldest nonclonal life forms on Earth, are just one example. Rather scrubby trees like this one are common in the lowlands. Thick carpets of fir, pine, and other tall trees dominate the higher elevations. There is more life in the midst of all this life. Rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals live in the lowlands. In the mountains, visitors often catch glimpses of bobcats, cougars, and other larger predatory animals. Elk and mule deer are in the mix as well.
Ancient glaciers and volcanoes made the area what it is today. Those huge glaciers melted at the end of the Ice Age, so much of this area was once a giant sea bed. As an International Dark Sky Park, Great Basin National Park offers one of the best areas in the West to gaze up at the stars and soak in the majesty of the Milky Way. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy at the park, including fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, and even pine nut gathering.
An RV is definitely the best way to experience Great Basin National Park. Think of it as a mobile hotel room, so a comfortable spot is always only a few steps away. There are a variety of RV campgrounds to enjoy. Some are large, where you can connect with RVers from other parts of the country. Others are smaller, so you can experience the desert isolation that has attracted so many people to this area for so many years.
Great Basin National Park is located in a remote area of eastern Nevada, far from any large city. The nearest "larger" town of Ely, NV, which has a population of about 4,000 people, is an hour away. The closest cities are far. Las Vegas is about five hours to the south, Salt Lake City, UT is four hours to the northeast, and St. George, UT is three hours to the southwest.
The roads near Great Basin National Park are flat and easily accessible for RVs. Most of the roads inside the park however are small and may pose challenges for big rigs. Elevation varies wildly in the park from low lands to high mountains. Routes that lead up in the mountains may be narrow, winding, or steep. The roads near and within some of the campgrounds are small and gravel. If you're unsure of the best route, you can call ahead and check with a ranger on road conditions.
In the “Basin” portion of Great Basin National Park, there is almost always plenty of parking. The desert floor is a little rocky at times, but it’s also very open and flat. Parking is more limited in higher elevations, so plan ahead.
There is no public transportation to or inside Great Basin National Park.
A small city right on the Nevada-Utah state line, West Wendover, NV is the closest base to the Bonneville Salt Flats where land-speed records are made. Whether you're on the way to Salt Lake City or staying in to see the races or hike Pilot Peak, bring your rig (up to 80 feet long) to Wendover KOA and find a tree-lined, full hookup spot with up to 50-amp service, or a water/electric site with up to 20/30-amp service. The campground has cable TV, Wi-Fi, propane, firewood, and pool. They have a tour shuttle, too. Pets are allowed.
Surrounded by nature, Ely, NV is chock full of connections to the past. Bring your rig to the Ely KOA right on US-93, and be within an hour's drive to the Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves, and railway museum or Old Ely's railroad facility. Private lawns, deluxe patio sites, and LP gas grills await rigs up to 90 feet at the many full hookup sites with up to 50-amp service. Water and electric sites are available for smaller rigs. On-site propane, firewood, and a Kamping Kitchen make cooking more convenient. Stay connected with Wi-Fi and cable TV. Pets are welcome.
Baker Creek Campground is close to the Visitor Center on the gravel-top Baker Creek Road. Many guests like this campground because it is not as remote, but often remains less crowded. Open from May to October, Baker Creek Campground offers 38 campsites. Drinking water is available from the spring to the fall. RVs and trailers are welcome at most sites, although they are not recommended in the Upper Loop. If you need a dump station you'll have to head to the Visitor Center. Rigs up to 30 feet will fit at most sites, and some sites may require leveling. Vault toilets and garbage service are provided. Wild turkeys are often sighted free-roaming near this campground.
Wheeler Peak Campground is a little more remote and is open from June through October. The pristine, pet-friendly campground has 37 campsites. Drinking water and vault toilets are provided, a dump station is located nearby. This part of Wheeler Park Scenic Drive is rather narrow and winding, so RVs longer than 24 feet are usually discouraged. Come prepared for the high altitude and the mountain weather so you can have a great camping experience. Many RVers choose this campground for easy access to some of the park's finest hiking trails.
Lower Lehman Creek Campground is about 2.5 miles from the visitors’ center. It has 11 campsites, some of which are pull-through sites. Upper Lehman Lehman Creek Campground, which is nearly a mile further down Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive, has 24 campsites. There are shower facilities between the two camps with vault toilets and drinking water.
Each site backs up to Lehman Creek, with its hiking trails leading to caves and waterfalls. Relax to the calming stream that drowns out much of the neighbors camping near you. Taking an RV trip to Great Basin National Park is made easier at these fantastic spots to camp. The sites are open from April through October at Upper Lehman Creek Campground, while the sites at Lower Lehman Creek Campground are open year-round.
This campground is on the northern edge of the national park. It’s quite rustic and provides that unique desert solitude feeling. A great place to get away from it all, this campground offers potable water and picnic tables. There are six sites that you can select from for your next RV adventure. However, it often closes when there are wildfires or other ecological events in the area. So, check with the rangers before you head out there.
A short drive from the highway, this campground features 12 primitive sites. That number includes three sites for group camping. There is a gravel road that leads you into the camping site, and the campground offers vault toilets and picnic tables. As a rustic place, there is no running water here, so plan accordingly.
If you want to go truly primitive at Great Basin, backcountry camping is the perfect option. No fee or permit is required, but registration is strongly encouraged, for your safety. You’ll need to stay a quarter-mile mile off of any developed road or site, 100 feet from bodies of water, and 500 feet from archaeological sites. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of space for everyone, and you can stay out for up to 14 days.
A number of private RV parks are close to Great Basin National Park, and a few offer full RV hookups. Options range from quite rustic to casino-style, complete with a few slot machines, beer mugs, and pool tables. In most spots, you’ll be able to enjoy WiFi, showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities. Head west to Ely, NV and you’ll have more options, including campgrounds with access to hiking and ATV trails, planned activities, dog parks, and kids’ play areas.
If you want to get away from the RV for a bit, Grey Cliffs Campground offers tent-only camping. No RVs or trailers are permitted at this campground. Open from May to September, Grey Cliffs Campground offers 16 sites, two of which are excellent for groups. The Lehman Caves Visitor Center and Baker Creek Campground are both less than two miles away and provide drinking water. You'll also find vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings at this campground. Close to trails and a nearby creek, you'll be lulled to sleep from the calming sound of your stream at night. This is the only campground in the park that accepts reservations.
Many trails remain open through the winter, even though the snow is intense and the temperatures can get quite cold. Some of the more popular ones are Wheeler Peak/Jeff Davis Peak, Grey Cliffs Trail, Timber Creek/Pole Canyon, and Lehman Creek. If you want to ski, you must bring your own equipment. Beginners can find gentle slopes while those with experience will have the thrill of adventure on the backcountry runs. Snowshoes are available for rent at the Lehman Caves Visitors’ Center. Check with park rangers about the snowfall. Sometimes, it is powdery and suitable for skiing; other times, it is dense and ideal for snowshoeing.
One of the few roads that are open all year, Snake Creek Road is also quite scenic and a popular outdoor attraction at this national park. It ends just short of Pyramid Peak in the central part, and part of the road is rather straight. But the higher travelers go into the mountains, the windier the road gets. Nevada does not have "dirt roads" as it is either paved or rocky roads. No RVs are allowed as you will need a high-clearance vehicle with all-terrain tires to navigate this road.
Low humidity, high elevation, and zero light pollution make Great Basin one of the best places in the world for astronomy. On a dark, clear winter night, guests can simply look up and see thousands of stars, star clusters, meteors, the Andromeda Galaxy, five of the solar system’s eight planets, man-made satellites, and the Milky Way. There are a number of astronomy-related events at the Park as well. We recommend the annual Astronomy Festival, where visitors can use more than two dozen types of telescopes. Always dress in layers for these events, because evenings get quite cold.
About 3,000 years ago, the Fremont Indians drew abstract pictures on rock formations inside caves. No one is sure who these individuals were, why they left these drawings, or what they are supposed to represent. We do know that these caves were more than just art galleries. Researchers have found charcoal, stone tool fragments, and many other artifacts in these caves. These pictures are a rather ghostly sight, and if nothing else, their indoor location offers a respite from the winter weather.
One of the Great Basin National Park signature rock formations is clearly visible in winter: Lexington Arch. It’s an impressive circular hole in solid rock, making it a testament to the force of winds over many, many years. Lexington Arch is also one of the largest limestone rock formations in the country. Travel among the wild beauty of Nevada along the moderate 2.9-mile Lexington Arch Trail to view the incredible birds and views of nature.
The Osceola Ditch Interpretive Trail is another beautiful little trail that branches off the Wheeler Overlook near Baker, Nevada, and is a 2.7-mile hike. During the 1880s gold rush, a mining company built this ditch to carry water from some nearby streams and rivers to the gold deposits nearby. But after some 15 years, the company ceased operations, as the mining was too tricky. Depending on your perspective, that story is either a great lesson about persistence. Or you may view it as a cautionary tale about the futility of fighting nature. Either way, the best to visit from June to November, it's a great way to see Nevada's wildlife.
These trees are truly incredible living things, and hiking this trail may be the best way to see them up close. It’s hard for anything to survive high in the Great Basin. The winters are long, cold, and windy. However, if you can make it through a year here, you can probably make it through pretty much anything. That may explain why these trees have been around for so long. Also, because they grow so slowly, these trees are very dense and highly resistant to insects. Bear in mind that everything in a National Park is protected. That includes bristlecone pines on the ground.
Why is a hiking trail that's less than a mile long (round trip) on this list? Because it is a low-key activity as the area is mostly flat as a table, making it ideal for families with small kids or people with mobility impairments. Everyone should get to experience this less-visited area of the Great Basin National Park. The trail itself is a relaxing, meandering walk through a conifer forest, directly off the Wheeler Peak Overlook.
The Mather Overlook is a great place to see the vast array of beauty at Great Basin National Park and to take a break during the climb up to Wheeler Peak. Viewing is best in the crisp fall air, but plan to go early in the season. If there is an early snowfall, access to this part of the road may be difficult due to the weather. It’s a very nice road with plenty of parking as well, and the area provides a restroom for visitors. There’s also a charming viewing area which includes a telescope and a great place to see a sunset.
Wheeler Park Overlook is located a mountain road. The grades is a little steep and vehicles over 24 feet long are prohibited on some portions. But it offers quite a view of the diverse landscape. Some people say it is almost like driving from Nevada to the Yukon. Some highlights include sagebrush seas, pinyon pine tree stands, and Mahogonay forests. The types of trees change the higher you go. Along the way, there are lots of parking areas that are adjacent to hiking trails.
This roughly a three-mile hiking trail is a pretty steady uphill climb, but the views are certainly worth the effort. Located near the end of the Great Basin National Park Scenic Drive outside of Baker, Nevada and includes Stella Lake, Glacier Lake, Teresa Lake, and some other ones. These bodies of water are worth the trip to view the crystal clear waters among the towering Wheeler Peak. Even better, the lakes attract all sorts of plant and animal wildlife and are best to visit from March until October. Most people run into deer, wild turkey, squirrels, and other small to medium-sized animals.
Before you cast that line, know that the National Park Service does not sell Nevada fishing licenses. Buy one online or at a local agent. Worms are the only live bait permitted; catch-and-release is “encouraged” but not required. So much for the rules. Now, for the fun stuff.
Lehman Creek is a good place for brown and brook trout. A few rainbow trout might end up in your net as well. There are lots of trout in Baker Creek as well. Follow the signs to find the designated fishing points.
Baker Lake is the only lake in the Park where there are fish. It’s quite an experience if you are into remote fishing locations. Thick ice covers the lake up to six months a year. The water level is the lowest late summer and early fall, making these months prime fishing time.
This glacier-formed lake is one of the highlights of the well-defined Alpine Lakes Loop Trail. Unbelievably beautiful, it is one of the highest lakes in the state (11,000-plus feet high). For anglers, fishing is not as plentiful as other places in the national park, and the water is too cold for swimming. However, the breathtaking scenery makes up for these deficiencies. The lake looks more like a water-filled meteor or volcano crater, and extremely tall pine trees crowd the shoreline. Sit back and enjoy a view Wheeler Peak, Nevada's only glacier.
Many visitors overlook places like Baker Peak in favor of more famous sites like Wheeler Peak. But if you have the time, Baker Peak is a very nice mountain peak that’s in an RV-friendly location. A variety of trails go up to the summit, from Class 2 scrambles to Class 5 rock-climbing approaches; the more challenging trails are mostly on the sheer north face. Once at the top, visitors may see Wheeler Peak, as well as a number of other mountains. That’s something of a rarity in the rugged Great Basin range.
Like many parts of the Great Basin, Mount Washington was once a mining claim. Back in the day, silver was pretty much everything in Nevada. When the mines dried up, there was talk that California might annex Nevada. Several hiking trails go up to the summit.
There is some talk of re-naming this mountain, even though Jefferson Davis was not yet President of the Confederacy when the mountain was named for him. Earlier surveys had this mountain as part of the adjacent Wheeler Peak, and it was not until the 1860s that Jeff Davis Peak received its own mountain designation. This peak is the third-largest in the state, and is a prime destination for climbers who want to tackle a less-popular climb.
Pyramid Peak is basically nestled among some much larger ones. The views are not as spectacular, but the hike up is quite nice. The trail out and back is a total of 9.6 miles. On the way, hikers can clearly see Johnson Lake as well as Baker Lake. There are also a few abandoned mine cabins scattered about, giving the trail a nice historical touch.
This site contains the ruins of a Fremont Indian village which dates back to about 1250 A.D. The village was quite sophisticated, with several smaller houses surrounding a central building. These people were agricultural. The site also includes several granaries. Visitors may view articles from the ruins, but there are no keepsies. There is a large picnic area at this site, in addition to restrooms, sun shades, and other facilities.
The Lehman Caves, which were the first protected area of the Great Basin National Park, are at the base of Wheeler Peak, and they are a highlight of the park for most visitors. Only tour groups may enter the Caves, and these tours are offered 362 days a year. The shorter Lodge Room Tour is ideal for families with very small children, while the longer Grand Palace tour includes a peek of the Parachute Shield rock formation. A number of creatures live in the Caves full-time. Others, like chipmunks and bats, leave the Caves periodically to forage for food.
At just over 13,000 feet high, Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in Nevada. RVers can take a paved road from the park to the mountain. There are a number of small campsites on the face-- the highest one is some 7,500 feet in the air. Later spring is the best time to visit Wheeler Peak. There are often sudden rainstorms during the summer, and in the late fall and winter, it gets pretty cold.
Another cool thing about Wheeler Peak is that it’s the highest mountain for some 200 miles. So, the closer you get to the top, the better the views get. To reach the top, park your RV on the scenic drive and then ascend the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail. It’s a Class 1 trail (designed for pedestrians; hiking boots are optional). Ask a ranger about the legend of Prometheus.